The Oak Ridge Boys
Oak Ridge Boy Duane Allen is the direct link between the long-time Oak Ridge Quartet vocal group that performed gospel in the 1940s and the one that took the calculated move into the realm of country music during the ’70s. Allen joined the Quartet in 1966 as the lead singer, marking more than 50 years with the group last year.
It was Allen, along with William Lee Golden, Joe Bonsall and Richard Sterban, who breathed new life into the old quartet and propelled the group further into the pages of musical history than even they could have imagined. During that evolution, they changed their image and their gospel heritage and took on more of a modern pop country sound. This move proved to be controversial at the time but it also proved to be the right one. The Oak Ridge Boys’ four-part harmonies and upbeat songs spawned dozens of country hits and awards, including Grammys, Doves, CMA and ACM trophies. They also made it into the Grand Ole Opry, and last year, into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
We have talked with members of the Oak Ridge Boys many times over the years, but never with Duane Allen. Well, we got in touch with him last week so here’s his take on…
Still going strong…for more than a couple of reasons…
Allen: In April, it will be 51 years. I never really dreamed that it would last this long. I don’t think any of us did. But I think we’re having more fun now than we ever have. None of us really has to do this any more. We do this because we love to do it and we kind of owe it to the people who work for us. I’ve often said, “Even if I didn’t love it, I would keep working for them.” We have people who’ve been working for us for over 45 years. It would probably be difficult for them to find a job that pays as well as we do at their age. As long as people are still working for us and bleeding our message—and they’ve pretty much helped us make our career successful—I’m gonna keep working for them.
I’ve tried to figure out how to retire or quit and I just run up against a brick wall. I just finally quit trying to think that way and I decided I’d pray for Divine Guidance so we do the right things—I always have. So I thought I would just pray that God lets me know when it’s enough—and then I started getting a peaceful feeling about it all. I’m just gonna sing as long as I have a voice and we’re all healthy.
The next thing…
Allen: We’ll be in the studio in July with David Cobb, who is the hottest producer in Nashville. We’ve done one album with him, but we were on a gospel label and they didn’t really know what to do with it. We convinced David to move to Nashville and he has taken over the RCA-A studio. It’s taken about a year to get studio time with him. We’re now looking for songs and David is going to produce what I guess you could kind of call an anthology of the Oak Ridge Boys. He’s gonna start us with what are beginnings were, with a gospel song or two, and then we’re gonna walk through our whole career with new songs that we’ve never recorded before.
We’ll go with the same styles on songs, but cut a different way, then we’ll head into the future. He has a very, very good overview of the Oak Ridge Boys. He sees things that other producers have never seen before so we’re looking forward to cutting another career-type album with him. That’s what we are all very excited about right now.
Shooting an “Elvira” video with the new group, Home Free…
Allen: Those guys are so much fun—they’re the next Oak Ridge Boys. We have mutual respect. They came to our home town and recorded in a studio we built back in the ’70s. I saw them actually about a year before on FOX and Friends TV. I sent them an email and just congratulated them on being a great harmony singing group, and before the day was up, I’d heard from all five of them, individually. I found out they were big fans of ours. Tim, the bass singer, and I struck up an immediate friendship. We started having dinner together and I got them on the Grand Ole Opry where they just tore it up. We’ve been trying to figure out a way that we could do some dates together—maybe a world tour sometime. Wouldn’t that be great?
On the popularity of a cappella groups like Home Free and Pentatonix…
Allen: Vocal harmony groups kind of died out for a while and now they’re back. You’ve got Pentatonix, who’ve become friends of ours, too. They did “Elvira” on a CMA award show two years ago to honor us, and then we recorded one of their songs on our new Christmas album, That’s Christmas To Me. The a cappella world is doing good business all over the country, all over the world really.
NOTE: Duane Allen has an acting role in an upcoming faith-based film to be released on cable in the fall (the title has yet to be set). So we asked about the chances of him getting into acting on a broader scale..
Allen: I don’t plan to quit singing to go and do acting because I don’t see myself as that good of an actor. They just let me play myself. But I didn’t feel uncomfortable playing the role they had for me because I was portraying an art collector. Now, on our bus I sit in the front alongside William Lee Golden as he goes through hundreds of books studying artwork. We’ve talked about it and I’ve watched it all—from the very first painting he starts with the very first process. I see all of the intricacies he goes through and how much preparation…and how he has the eye for painting.
It’s the same type of gift that I feel I’ve always had for hearing a hit song. Watching him gave me that insight to art that I have to have when I’m mixing 32 channels of sound…where I have to hear all 32 channels at once and how it all has to work in the end. In artwork, you put things on one at a time, but you’re always thinking about what you’re working to achieve at the end of that painting and how you get there.
So what the producer asked me to do was just apply that same kind of art of hearing something special and applying it to art like I apply to a hit song. So that really wasn’t a stretch for me of how art works and how it comes together. So it was really fun, I enjoyed it.
It’s also very time consuming. Some nights I didn’t get home until 5 o’clock in the morning. It was hard work— a lot of hurry up and wait—but we’re accustomed to that in recording as well as doing television.
Playing the Riverside Resort for a seven day run (they began their current run on Mon, Feb 6)….
Allen: It started years ago when we were selling out everything, so they said, “we can add four more shows if you want to work that much.” We said, “We’re already here and we love to sing, and it will help our bottom line if you want to add the shows.”
It’s really a matter of the people demanding it is why we’ve done it. And we don’t ever do the same show twice. Audiences never know what we’re gonna do next, and quite honestly, we don’t either. It’s a crazy group of people, you know. They become a part of our show—and we let them.
Allen: I love Laughlin because I enjoy getting out. We all love to walk, especially William Lee, but we all get out among the people. That’s what’s fun about Laughlin. Sometimes, if they see us walking they’ll sometimes say, “You mind if we walk with you?” No, come on, let’s go.
Laughlin is a place to really lay down and lay low and do some setting up of our new tour and learn some new songs, try ‘em out on the audience. We bring out songs from our old catalogue that we haven’t done in a while. We’re working on those right now.
We’re talking about something that we may be doing by the time we get to Laughlin. That is revisiting the Y’all Come Back Saloon album, which was our first country album, 40 years ago. We’re trying to make it a very special part of the show. Three of the songs on the album we do all the time. It’s just that we’ve got to learn a few of the songs we’ve not done in a long time, but we’re thinking about making that a major part of our tour this year. I think our fans will really enjoy that.
Y’all Come Back Saloon also has history in Nevada, right?
Allen: It’s got a lot of Nevada in it. The covers on the front and the back were all made at the Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City, just south of Reno. In fact, the covers of our two biggest career albums were made in Nevada. The Fancy Free album, which has “Elvira” on it, was shot in Reno. That Duesenberg on the front cover was from the Harrah’s auto collection. We’ve got Nevada all over us. We’ve worked many, many years in Nevada and we still have business all over the state.
Their product at Cracker Barrels across the country: Oak Ridge Boys Southern Style Bread ‘N Butter Jalapenos…
Allen: Those are delicious. If they still have them. They are constantly out of them because they go like hotcakes—and they go with everything. It started with our friendship with a man in Texas named Tony Dry who had this hot sauce. He has these special needs children he trained to help him make the sauce. It was a matter of helping special needs children that got our attention. We went to the factory and everybody there except for the people who ran the place were special needs people. He provided jobs for them.
He was able to build some homes and things like that with the money his company made from their hot sauce. He said to us, “I think we can do a national thing if we just put the Oak Ridge Boys’ name on this bread ‘n butter jalapenos”. So we said, “Let’s give it a try.” It was pretty much that simple.
They developed it in Texas and the first weekend they tried it out they sold over 200 cases in the first day in one of the big stores. When the head office of that chain of grocery stores heard about it, they immediately put it in all their stores, then Cracker Barrel heard about it and ordered thousands of cases for all 700 of their stores.
THE OAK RIDGE BOYS
Riverside Resort, Don’s Celebrity Theatre
Wednesday-Sunday, February 8-12. 7 p.m.; 3 p.m. matinees added on Wed, Thurs, Sat. (See Showtimes for tickets)